Seeing Stars: Final Resting Places of the Stars


PART III
1218 Glendon Avenue,
Westwood, CA. / (310) 474-1579


[This is the third page of a six-page article. Click here to go to page one.]



But you won't find Marilyn Monroe's (1926-1962) grave in this main grassy section. In fact, Marilyn isn't in a grave at all. She's buried above-ground in one of the white mausoleum crypts, near the northeast corner of the park.

Actually, her crypt and marker are quite plain. It looks like all the others along the stone wall, except that it's slightly darker - stained by the multitude of fans who have touched and kissed it. Her small marker reads "Marilyn Monroe: 1926-1962."

From the huge old tree near Eve Arden and the Durants' graves, just walk straight north to the wall of outdoor crypts. A white stone bench, dedicated to Marilyn, lies just a few steps away from her crypt. Her tomb area, the Corridor of Memories, is not gated (as are some of the others areas here), but is open to full view.

Although Marilyn appeared in a number of successful movies, ("Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" "How to Marry a Millionaire", "The Seven Year Itch", "Some Like it Hot", "The Misfits"), the origins of her superstar status may lie more with her life away from the movie camera than with her skill as an actress.

Formerly named Norma Jeane Baker, she was Playboy's very first centerfold in 1953 (at a time when nudity was still taboo in Hollywood). Nicknamed the "Blonde Bombshell", she was married to both baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio and later to playwright Arthur Miller ("Death of a Salesman"), and was rumored to have had affairs with everyone from Yves Montand to President Kennedy. The memorable subway scene from "Seven Year Itch", where the wind blows up her white dress, has been reproduced (and mimicked) so often that it has become as much a part of Hollywood iconography as the Hollywood sign itself. Add to that her tragic suicide from a drug overdose at a young age (just 36), near the height of her career, and a hint of mystery surrounding her death, and you have the recipe for a true Tinseltown legend.

(Her co-star in "Some Like it Hot", Jack Lemon, is also buried nearby at Pierce Bros Westwood, as is the director of that film, Billy Wilder.)

To find Marilyn's tomb from the park's main entrance, turn left at the entrance and follow the driveway east, alongside the wall of crypts, to the northeast corner of the park. Here, on this south-facing wall of crypts, Marilyn's crypt is the second from the bottom, and the second from the west corner wall. Marilyn's tomb is easy to spot because it is discolored (slightly reddish) from all the lipstick fans have left on it.

    ( The crypt directly above Marilyn's reportedly sold on eBay for $4.6 million in 2009. The original occupant of that upper crypt, Richard Poncher, was buried upside down above Marilyn.  But after 23 years, his widow decided to move his remains and auction the space to pay off her mortgage and free the money for her kids. However, that reported eBay sale fell through, after the buyer backed out. And at this writing, Mr. Poncher still occupies the space above Marilyn. And as of late 2013, the crypt still bears Mr. Poncher's name. )




Look at the upper left corner of the same wall where Marilyn is buried (just one space to the left and two spaces up), and you'll see what was, as late as 2010, the crypt of songwriter Jay Livingston (1915-2001).

The name may not ring a bell, but the songs he wrote will. Along with his partner in song, Ray Evans, Jay penned classics such as the Christmas carol "Silver Bells", and Academy Award winning songs such as "Mona Lisa" (a big hit for Nat King Cole), "Buttons and Bows" (a hit for Bob Hope in "The Paleface"), and "Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" (which became Doris Day's theme song). Together, the team of Livingston & Evans wrote 26 songs that sold more than 1 million copies each, including "Dear Heart" (a big hit for Andy Williams) and "Tammy" (from the Debbie Reynolds film). They also wrote the memorable themes to the TV shows "Bonanza" and "Mr. Ed", and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

However, as of 2012, the marker has disappeared from Jay's crypt, and the spot is now blank.  My hunch is that the crypts on this wall have become so valuable (thanks to Marilyn's presence), that his heirs might have moved him to a less expensive spot, and re-sold the crypt at a higher price.  But that is just a guess... I could be wrong.

(The other half of this songwriting duo, Ray Evans, lived until 2007, and the ripe age of 92. Ray's ashes were alongside those of his late wife Wynn in the nearby rose garden at Pierce Bros.)





Nearby, but not on this wall, is 'Agent Elliot Ness' himself, actor Robert Stack (1919-2003), star of the hit 60's TV show, "The Untouchables". Narrated by Walter Winchell, "The Untouchables" took on the subject of the mob long before "The Godfather" romanticized the subject. As Ness, Robert Stack battled organized crime during the Prohibition period of the 1930's, tommy gun in hand, fighting the likes of Al Capone and Frank Nitti; his stern stare and deep voice lent credence to the character. The show ran from 1959 to 1963, and reportedly drew threats from the real mob, as well as some protests about the on-screen violence. (A movie based on the TV show was made in 1987, starring Kevin Costner as Ness.)

Before "The Untouchables", Robert was a handsome young matinee idol in a string of movies in the 40's and 50's. His first film was called "First Love" (1939), in which he gave young Deanna Durbin her first screen kiss.

He later spoofed his serious characters with a funny turn as 'Capt. Rex Kramer' in the 1980 comedy "Airplane".

Younger viewers may know him best from TV's "Unsolved Mysteries", where his deadpan 'Elliot Ness' persona worked perfectly for him in the role of the host tracking down the perpetrators of unsolved crimes.

He was cremated, and his ashes were buried in the "Room of Prayer" a locked, private mausoleum at the northeast corner of the park (just a few yards to the right of Marilyn's crypt).




Click here to see a map of the park.


From Marilyn's crypt, we now move west a little to examine a few other celebs located along the northern edge of the park. (See a map of the grounds.)

In this series of semi-enclosed "sanctuaries." surrounding the main lawn, you'll find a number of Hollywood notables. The gates of most of these open "sanctuary." alcoves are unlocked, so feel free to enter. And each sanctuary has its name posted in clear view, so it's easy to tell the rooms apart.

Start with the alcove right next to Marilyn's tomb (to the west); it's known as the Sanctuary of Tranquillity. Step inside, and on the bottom row of the right (east) wall, two spaces in from the south end, is the crypt of famed drummer Buddy Rich (1917-1987) (a regular guest on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.)

  Here's a clip of him drumming on "The Lucy Show".



On the back wall of this same the Sanctuary of Tranquillity. you will find the crypt of one of the most acclaimed cinematographers of all time, James Wong Howe (1899-1976). Known to his friends as Jimmie, he began his Academy Award-winning role as director of photography back in the silent days of 1922, and went on to do such films "Hud," "Picnic," "The Old Man & the Sea" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy." He filmed Burt Lancaster (who is buried nearby) in "The Rose Tattoo," and won an Oscar for it. He filmed "This Property is Condemned" with Natalie Wood. His last film was 1975's "Funny Lady," the biopic of Fanny Brice, who is also buried here at Pierce Bros. You'll find his small niche nine spaces up from the bottom, and four spaces in from the right (east) wall.


One alcove to the west, in the Sanctuary of Devotion (the middle of these three outdoor rooms), you'll find the crypt of actor Jonathan Harris (1914-2002).

If that name doesn't immediately ring a bell for you, think of the classic 60's sci-fi series "Lost in Space", and then think of the dastardly, cowardly 'Dr. Smith'. Yes, that was Jonathan Harris. Although the character of 'Zachary Smith' started out as a minor villain, he soon dominated the popular show, with much humorous banter between himself and the Robinson family robot.

Harris also provided the voices for many cartoon characters, such as 'Manny', the pompous praying mantis in Disney's "A Bug's Life".

His small crypt is located on the back wall, three spaces in from the right wall, nine spaces up from the bottom, just above eye level.


In the last alcove to the west, in the Sanctuary of Tenderness, is the crypt of actor Christopher George (1931-1983), who played 'Sgt. Sam Troy' on TV's "The Rat Patrol", and 'Ben Richards' on "The Immortal." He was married to actress Lynda Day George (and Vanna White was his niece).

His crypt is on the left (east) wall, in the second row up, five spaces from the south end.




In the wall crypt directly below Christopher George is is Oscar-winning composer Harry Warren, whose songs included "The Lullaby of Broadway," "Jeepers Creepers," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "The More I See You," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe," and "That's Amore" (which was a hit for Dean Martin, who is also buried here at Pierce Bros.)

The musical notes on his headstone are from another of his hit compositions: "You'll Never Know."



Step back outside, and continue to the west, past the Sanctuary of Tenderness and around the corner. There, on the outside (west-facing) wall is author Truman Capote (1924-1984), the sophisticated wit who gave us the sparkling "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and the chilling "In Cold Blood." His crypt is in the second row up from the ground, two spaces from its south corner.







The child actress from the movie "Poltergeist," is also here: Heather O'Rourke (1975-1988), who played 'Carol Anne', the little girl who was famous for the line "They're here!." She is interred just below and to the left of Truman Capote, on the bottom row of the same wall. She died at age 13, on the operating table.

Ironically, the young actress who played Heather's older sister in "Poltergeist," Dominique Dunne (1959-1982), also died tragically (strangled by her estranged boyfriend) and is also buried here at Pierce Bros, in a lawn grave near the southern curb, just southwest of Dorothy Stratten, and south of Donna Reed.

(Her father, Dominick Dunne, is the author of such best-sellers as "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles" and "An Inconvenient Woman." ; he became an outspoken TV commentator during the O.J. Simpson trial.)





On the grass just in front of the crypt of Truman Capote is the lawn grave of singer Mel Torme (1925-1999).

A 1940's crooner known as "The Velvet Fog." (a title he hated), Mel went on to embrace an improvisational jazz style in his later years, winning Grammy Awards as Best Male Jazz Vocalist in the '80's. Along the way, he appeared in a number of Hollywood movie musicals. He also wrote 300 songs, including the classic carol "The Christmas Song" ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."), which became a huge hit for fellow singer Nat 'King' Cole. In latter years, Mel appeared with Ella Fitzgerald at the annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, and also guest starred frequently on the popular TV sitcom "Night Court.." (see the map.)

When they had his funeral here at Westwood Memorial, "Night Court" star Harry Anderson was among a host of celebrities and members of the public who attended. Speakers included Mel Brooks, Donald O'Connor, Nancy Sinatra, Hugh Hefner, Cliff Robertson, Robert Culp, Harlan Ellison, Gloria DeHaven and Rhonda Fleming. Pallbearers included Jack Jones James Darren, Jerry Vale, Ray Anthony and Rich Little.


Just to the west of Truman Capote's wall is a large tree, with a white stone bench in front. On the lawn behind this tree is the grave of famed actor/director John Cassavetes (1929-1989). As an actor, Cassavetes starred as Mia Farrow's husband in "Rosemary's Baby" ; as a director, he often worked with Peter Falk and Ben Gazarra, and gave us the acclaimed "A Woman Under the Influence" (which starred his wife, actress Gena Rowlands).




Right next to Cassavetes is the grave of Hungarian-born actress Eva Gabor (1921-1995) (Zsa Zsa's sister), who starred as Eddie Albert's ditzy, city-loving wife, Lisa Douglas, stuck out in Hooterville on the popular TV sitcom "Green Acres." (Eddie is also buried here at Pierce Bros.)

She also sung part of the show's theme song

"New York is where I'd rather stay - I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view. Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue.
"



In between the wall with Truman Capote's crypt and the graves of Cassavetes and Eva Gabor is the grave of superagent Irving "Swifty" Lazar (1907-1993), the man who helped put the restaurant Spago on the map with his annual, post-Oscars party, which Swifty threw each year at Puck's bistro. His party was the place to be on Oscar night - until his death ended the tradition.





To the west of this tree, near the park entrance, is a small free-standing mausoleum which is the final resting place of industrialist Armand Hammer (1898-1990) and his family, who founded Occidental Petroleum and was one of the wealthiest men in America. Armand Hammer pioneered trade with the Soviet Union, back when such openness was unheard of. (The Armand Hammer museum of art is located right across Wilshire Boulevard.)



Right above the southern curb of this northern strip of lawn (only a few steps east of the west corner) is one of the greatest TV character actors of all time: Don Knotts (1924-2006).

Don was unforgettable as deputy 'Barney Fife', patroling the peaceful town of Mayberry, NC (single bullet in his pocket) on the classic "Andy Griffith Show". He had created a "nervous man" character for the Steve Allen Show, and played a similar jittery role in the 1958 movie "No Time For Sergeants" - which also starred Andy Griffith. Originally, Andy was supposed to be the funny one on the show, but he was soon eclipsed by 'Barney Fife' and ended up playing straight-man to Don Knotts' beloved 'Barney' character.

Don left the show in 1965 (after starring in the animated film, ""The Incredible Mr. Limpet"), and signed with Universal Studios, who starred him in a number of movies where he played essentially the same nervous character, including "The Ghost & Mr. Chicken" and "The Reluctant Astronaut". He later made family films for Disney, such as "The Apple Dumpling Gang". But he really never hit it big in the movies. TV, on the other hand, always loved him.

In the 1970's, he adopted another famous role as 'Mr. Furley', the suspicious landlord to the daffy trio on the hit sitcom "Three's Company."

In the last part of his life, he reunited with Andy Griffith for Mayberry reunion specials, as well as for Andy's lawyer show "Matlock". And in 1998, Don played the mysterious TV repairman in the movie "Pleasantville".

In 2010, his original small marker was replaced with a large, distinctive bronze plaque bearing the likenesses of Don's characters: Barney Fife, Mr. Limpet, the Reluctant Astronaut, etc.

( This may well be my favorite marker, ever. Be sure to click on the small photo of his marker (to the the right) to see a larger image of it, so you can appreciate the detail. )



Click here to see a map of the park grounds.

Click here for directions to the park.




We're almost finished.

             

 Click here to continue this tour of Westwood Village Memorial Park
with a look at the graves of
Dean Martin, Oscar Lavent & Burt Lancaster.

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